We were only 40k from Thargomindah. The meaning of the town’s name is unclear. Some say it means ‘echidna’ and others say it means ‘cloud of dust.’ The Burke and Wills Expedition paved the way for settlements in the area and the town was first settled in the 1860’s. For many years Thargomindah was the last outpost of civilisation, if you could call it that as there was almost no law and order to the area. By 1876 there were ten hotels and drinking establishments in the town.
On our map the town looked to be the biggest town on the loop. I was expecting something a little bigger than the town we drove into. We stopped at the information centre. It looked very impressive and new.
There was only one small general store so before we started to look around I topped up my pantry, leaving many items not crossed off my list. (Nothing I can’t live without.) I am used to the limited supply in some small country towns we have been in. I do often wonder how the locals cope though.
After putting everything away we made our way to one of the attractions of the town. A heritage listed house with four rooms. We were expecting the house to be closed but there was a sign saying it was open 24 hours and please made sure you close the door and turn off the lights when you leave.
The land was purchased in 1885 for £45. I don’t know how much it cost to build the house but it is one of only five surviving buildings which have been constructed from locally made bricks in the town. The house remained occupied until 1995 when it was bought from the owner to be used as a museum.
There wasn’t much in the house but it was interesting. There was a seat made out of old boxes and an old cot among other old things.
There were information boards on different pioneers families of the area and the harsh reality of lives they had to live with.
Probably the most interesting item in the museum for me was a gyrocopter rotor blade. It was part of the gyrocopter used in the first Mad Max movie.
Several old farming items were scattered around the back yard.
What caught my attention the most was the ‘Phantom 309.’ The Bulloo River would often flood cutting the town off. Sometimes the flooding could last for many weeks. Getting supplies across the river was a big problem. Phantom 309 was a Flood Truck. It has a table top body and both axles have been raised. The truck was used to ferry vehicles and supplies over the river. Some times the truck travelled down to Eulo if the Paroo River was flooded to pick up the supplies. Over the years three trucks had been used. In 1998 the Shire purchased a purpose built truck to help the State Emergency Service and it is still in use today.
After lunch we took a walk down to the Pelican River. With a name like that I did thing we may see lots of pelicans. We had been told at the tourist information centre it was a must see. It wasn’t our day for pelicans. Not one.
We had a quick drive round the town and noticed the general store and everything else, which was open before lunch was now closed. It was a Saturday and we were in the country. We should have realized. We were a bit concerned about getting fuel. Not that it would have been a big problem to stay in the town until the station was open. The main service station on the road in was closed but we had been told there was another one. We had to drive around the town to find it tucked away in a side street. Then we fuelled up and we were on our away.
Not quite. We stopped at the Hydro power plant. Like a lot of the small towns situated over the Great Artesian basin, Thargomindah tapped the water. The basin extends over 1.7 million square kilometres making it one of the largest single groundwater resources in the world.
Thargomindah was the first Australian town, and third in the world after Paris and London, to produce hydroelectric power. Using the water pressure for the artesian basin for street lighting in 1893. (The bore water arrived at the surface at 840c.) For the power to reach the town it had to travel a k by overhead lines. At the time it was a breach of the electric light and power act of Queensland of 1896 as it was though to be a potential danger if they broke and fell down. It was put to the Government that the scheme would not be commercially viable if the overhead conductors were not approved. In 1899 a variation to the law was introduced so Thargomindah could have the power. The story goes the plant ran continuously for 54 years without a breakdown. The only time there was no power was when the local operator got drunk on Saturday and failed to turn the generators on. The plant operated until it was replaced in 1951 by a diesel engine.
Outside of the pumping shed was a Renewable Energy Display. Of course there was the good old windmill and a steam engine.
The bore still supplies homes in Thargomindah with hot water. It may look like the homes have a hot water system but they are cooling tanks. It is an interesting thought to realize the homes in Thargomindah were once powered by 2 million year old water.
It wasn’t until after we left the town that we found out there was an old hospital building built prior 1888 made with unfixed mud brick, which was open to the public. We are seeing so much as we traveller that you could spend you entire life traveling and still not see it all.